Pre-event surveys and post-event evaluations provide rich feedback and input for effectively planning and assessing the success of events and conferences. While actually completing these evaluations (as a delegate, sponsor or exhibitor) should be quick and easy, they do require thoughtful planning in order to maximize their value. As I have been involved in helping clients take advantage of the learning to be had from pre-event surveys and post-event evaluations, I’ve answered hundreds of questions about how best to design them and analyze the results. Here are my answers to the top five FAQs that I field most often:
Q: When should I send out pre-event surveys?
A: At least six months in advance; even earlier if possible.
Booking compelling speakers, finding an appropriate venue, and organizing workshops and breakout sessions to provide maximum value to attendees all take time. In most large urban centres, the best conference venues need to be reserved at least a year in advance. Good speakers get booked up early, too.
And you will need to have the results of your pre-event research early enough to be able to incorporate the learning into your early stage planning. Even the conference theme, as well as other fundamental strategic decisions, could be informed by high-quality pre-event consultation with your delegates.
Q: How long after the event should I wait to send out the post-event survey?
A: Don’t wait at all. Send it out the moment the event wraps up.
The best thing to do is literally send the survey out the minute the conference or event closes. That way attendees have everything fresh in their minds and will be able to provide the most meaningful feedback. We aim to catch attendees on their iPhones or iPads at the airport while they are waiting for their flights home.
Every event manager knows the devil is in the details – the room was too cold or the coffee was too weak – and sometimes these are the memories that linger. But if attendees thought the presentations were fantastic, if their objectives in attending were satisfied, and if they plan to attend next year (and recommend to colleagues that they do, too), it’s important to capture those big measures of overall success before they are forgotten.
Q: How do I get attendees to actually fill out the post-event evaluation?
A: Easy. Give them an incentive.
As with any quantitative research initiative, maximizing response rates is key. Offering an incentive that is meaningful and motivating to the target audience goes a long way. It could be something as simple as a contest draw for a complimentary pass to next year’s conference or paying the winner’s travel expenses. A year’s membership dues to your organization might also be a “carrot” that respondents would appreciate.
Q: We did a post-conference evaluation and got great feedback. Do we still need to do pre-event research?
A: Maybe not, but there is likely real value to be gained from doing both.
Delegates who have just left a conference or event are in a great place to provide incredibly valuable feedback on how things went, as well as what could be improved next time. But it is hard for most people to answer hypothetical questions, such as which keynote speakers would you like to hear next time, or what topics would you like covered in next year’s break-out sessions? But once you have had a chance to review the results of the post-event evaluations and develop some preliminary plans for the upcoming year, you’re in great shape to consult with delegates via a pre-conference survey, and ask them which of a number of options they would prefer.
Q: How can I get even more value from my post-conference evaluations?
A: Use the results as a selling tool for next year!
One of my clients tells me she can’t wait to get the findings from her annual post-conference evaluation. As soon as the conference wraps up, she is ready to start approaching sponsors and trade show exhibitors to support the next year’s effort, and she uses delegates’ satisfaction scores, intention to attend next year, willingness to recommend the conference to colleagues, as well as other key metrics, to engage and encourage participation from her key stakeholders in the next initiative, even when it is still 12 months or more down the road.
What other questions do you have about using pre- and post-event surveys? I’d be happy to answer your queries – simply send me an email or LinkedIn message and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
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